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Opera in two parts
First performance, 2nd edition: December 28 1720, King's Theatre, Haymarket, London
Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym after Domenico Lalli
This production first performed April 3 2016 (Bockenheimer Depot)
Sung in Italian with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
Background Farasmane, King of Thrace, has two children: Radamisto, heir to the throne, and his sister Polissena. Radamisto is married to Zenobia, Polissena to Tiridate, King of Armenia, who has fallen in love with Zenobia, Radamisto's wife. He declares war on Thrace, intending to conquer her. Part 1 Polissena begs the gods for help. Her husband has disowned her and invaded Thrace, her country of birth. Tigrane, one of her husband's allies, and Fraarte, Tiridate's brother, enlighten her: the king loves Zenobia and intends to win her over by force. Tigrane loves Polissena. He advises her to leave Tiridate for him, an honourable man, but Polissena turns him down. Tiridate has King Farasmane, his father-in-law, in his clutches. He's now planning his brother-in-law, Radamisto's, death and the destruction of the city. Farasmane, deprived of power, offers Tiridate his life in exhange for his son Radamisto's freedom. But the Armenian tyrant turns the proposal down. Tiridate, hoping that the city will surrender, allows Farasmane, watched over by Fraarte, to meet Radamisto and advise him to capitulate. Radamisto and Zenobia have managed to flee Tiridate. Zenobia is desperate. She's frightened she could be arrested at any moment. Radamisto tries to comfort his wife. Tigrane brings his hostage, Farasmane. Father and son must choose: either Radamisto (and the city) surrenders or his father must die. Zenobia begs Radamisto to kill her. She bemoans her fate and would rather lose her life than find herself at Tiridate's mercy. Radamisto receives word from his father, leaving his fate in his hands. Tigrane starts the battle and, not long afterwards, announces their victory to Tiridate, who wants to see Zenobia and Radamisto captured. In exchange for this he promises Tigrane to spare Farasmane's life. Polissena tries to speak to her husband Tiridate. He snubs her again. Polissena thanks Tigrane for saving her father's life and begs him to save Radamisto too. Tigrane, delighted to have the chance of proving his worth again to the one he loves, helps both escape. Polissena hopes for better times. Zenobia can't take any more. She begs Radamisto to kill her before she is found, but he cannot bring himself to fulfil his beloved wife's wishes. Zenobia, at her wits end, plunges into a turbulent river. Radamisto takes his leave from his wife. Part 2 Fraarte, who managed to rescue Zenobia from the flood, brings her to his brother Tiridate. She pleads with the Furies to stand by her. Tiridate offers her the place by his side, as Queen. Zenobia, alone, hopes for news about Radamisto's whereabouts. Radamisto, in the meantime, meets his sister Polissena. He wants to bring about the fall of the tyrant Tiridate. She feels honour bound to husband and brother. Polissena vacillates: who should she stand by? Radamisto, disguised as a servant, Ismeno, brings Tiridate news about his own death. Zenobia recognises her husband immediately. Tiridate leaves Ismeno alone with Zenobia. The reaffirm their love. Tigrane has to concede that his persistant wooing of Polissena is in vain. He and Fraarte, who have both had enough of Tiridate's excessive behaviour, join forces against him. Zenobia is worried that Radamisto's jealousy could give him away. When Tiridate offers her the Queen's ring again, she turns him down. He becomes violent. Radamisto tries to kill him but Polissena holds her brother back. Tiridate asks Zenobia to chose: if she marries him, Radamisto's life will be spared. If she turns him down, her husband must die. Zenobia and Radamisto take their leave from one another. Tigrane and Faaarte have stirred the people up against Tiridate. He is now powerless. Farasmane, expected to pass judgement over Tiridate, leaves the decision to his son. Radamisto pardons Tiridate. Apparently impressed by this clemency, he returns to his wife Polissena. It seems that, pushed into a corner, the dictator has given up on his plans.
A world falls apart at the seams: Nobody can match the tyrant Tiridate's cruel resolve. The reason for his destructive war is his love for Zenobia, his brother-in-law Radamisto's wife. A craving for power and his love result in Tiridate's reactions becoming more and more uncontrolled, but in the end his arrogance causes him to overstep the mark and he lose his allies. Handel's protagonists are forced to decide between life and death. Radamisto is a highly concentrated chamber drama in which the characters are linked to one another as if caught up in a spider's web. Handel's first opera for the Royal Academy of London was based on the historian Tacitus' Annals, the libretto includes freely adapted episodes from Roman history. The combition of power politics and family entanglements resulted in a multilayered, psychologically finely structured work with surprising twists and turns in the hands of the composer and his librettist Nicola Francesco Haym.